Estate of Annette Giacometti, Paris
Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris (a bequest from the above)
Guy Weelen, Miró, Paris, 1984, no. 213, illustrated p. 158
Jacques Dupin & Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró. Catalogue Raisonné. Paintings, Paris, 2001, vol. III, no. 981, illustrated in colour p. 243
The majestic ultramarine blue ground used in the present work harks back to the ‘dream paintings’ of the late 1920s (fig. 2). In 1925 Miró began a series of pictures in which he abandoned the more figurative manner of representation he had hitherto used and concentrated on a new visual idiom. The use of one or two intensely rich colours also became a hallmark of the period, and in Peinture-Poésie Miró declared that blue was the colour of his dreams. The blue used in many of the ‘dream paintings’ is the quintessential feature of works from this period and became highly influential for a later generation of artists such as Mark Rothko and Yves Klein. Isabelle Monod-Fontaine writes: ‘the colour blue (or azul as Miró termed it, in Spanish derived from Arabic) is generally associated with spirituality, implicitly referring to an ‘above’ of mellifluous whisperings, something like Mallarmé’s Azure’ (I. Monod-Fontaine, in Joan Miró, 1917-1934 (exhibition catalogue), Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 2004, p. 71).
The present work exemplifies the expressive power of images. In it Miró is reliant upon the lexicon of signs and symbols that he had developed over the years. Discussing the works of 1952-54 Jacques Dupin wrote: ‘To study the form, their distribution and their composition, to elucidate the rhythms and the distribution of the colours, gets us nowhere. Precisely because the artist has not “elaborated”, but has let us come face to face with the pure creative act itself, our instruments of investigation are useless. And yet the brutal forms thus projected are neither arbitrary nor are they mere products of some automatism. They are always related to Miró’s vocabulary of signs and other elements of his language, but they are spontaneous; they are not “worked up” emanations of this language, but a deliberate simplification of it. Hence their expressive power is all the greater; their energy has been caught at the source and let go at once, the sign being the condensed vehicle of subterranean energy that otherwise would be dispersed and lost’ (J. Dupin, Miró, Barcelona & New York, 1993, p. 294).
In Miró’s most successful works his remarkable visual vocabulary strikes a perfect balance between abstraction and image-signs. There is always energy and movement in these pictures and never a sense of stasis, an effect that was identified by his friend Alexander Calder, whose ‘mobiles’ and ‘stabiles’ (fig. 5) share Miró’s engagement with transitory compositions. Moreover, each work is the result of active and ongoing improvisation that renders a precise interpretation impossible. When Miró painted this work in 1954, he had already become acquainted with the new techniques and aesthetic agenda of the Abstract Expressionists. He first saw their work in New York in 1947, and the experience, the artist would later recall, was like ‘a blow to the solar plexus’. Several young painters, including Jackson Pollock (fig. 3), were crediting Miró as the inspiration for their wild, paint-splattered canvases. Miró was both flattered and a little awed by the acknowledgement, not knowing immediately what to think of it. In a dialogue between Miró and Rafael Santos Torroella in March 1951, the artist offered advice to young painters, and his words give some insight into the underlying motivations that inspired the present work and his own interpretation of abstraction: “‘He who wants to really achieve something has to flee from things that are easy and pay no attention to ‘artistic bureaucracy’, which is completely lacking in spiritual concerns. What is more absurd than killing yourself to copy a highlight on a bottle? If that was all painting was about, it wouldn’t be worth the effort’. In response, Torroella asked, “What about abstract art then?” to which Miró replied, “No. That is not the way to spiritual freedom. You don’t gain even a centimetre of freedom from art that’s governed by cold formulas. You only get your freedom by sweating for it, by an inner struggle”’ (quoted in M. Rowell, Joan Miró, Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 226).
The paintings he produced at the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s are a fascinating response to new trends of abstraction, especially to the American Abstract Expressionists who had so admired his own work, but they also show Miró’s allegiance to his own artistic pursuits. ‘For me a form is never something abstract’, he said at the end of the 1940s, ‘it is always a sign of something. It is always a man, a bird, or something else. For me painting is never form for form’s sake’ (quoted in ibid., p. 207). The present work is populated by those archetypal motifs – the celestial bodies, the gaping mouths, and stretching limbs – and is symptomatic of Miró’s dedication to the use of symbols. Whilst the overall composition is filled with the energy of the Abstract Expressionists, the finely drawn stars, precisely placed dabs of paints and quasi-figurative areas of colour are imparted with the same poetic symbolism which Miró had begun to use during the 1920s and which continued to populate his work for the remainder of his career.
Peinture was presented as a gift to the Giacomettis and has subsequently passed into the hands of the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti in Paris. Giacometti once said of the inimitable nature of Miró’s art: ‘For me, it was the greatest liberation. Anything lighter, more airy, more detached, I had never seen. In a way, it was absolutely perfect. Miró could not put down a dot without it being in just the right place. He was so much a painter, through and through, that he could leave three spots of colour on the canvas and it became a painting’ (quoted in Joan Miró, 1917-1934 (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 212).
This work has been requested for the forthcoming exhibition Miró and Cobra. The Joy of Experiment to be held at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen, The Netherlands from October 2015 to January 2016.
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